By Scott Simons

The Rosslare Ferry docked in the early morning. It was the day Dev died. I was travelling with only a small backpack, so I was one of the first off the ship and onto the waiting train. Three minutes after I took my seat, the train pulled away from the station, leaving behind crowds of people still streaming across the tarmac to board.
What the heck?  Welcome to Ireland!

I had no idea of the historic importance of the 29th of August 1975. I had never heard of Eamon de Valera, three times Taoiseach and then twice elected President of Ireland. I knew nothing of the Easter 1916 Uprising or the Republic’s history, or politics. But, if ever a single day marked the end of an era in Irish history, this was it.

Gombeen that I was, everything about the place struck me forcefully.

For one thing, there was the toilet paper. It came in two varieties. There was the shiny butcher’s paper which felt like, well, shiny butcher paper. And then there were rough pink rolls with chunks of embedded wood. High gloss or sandpaper – those were the choices.

The towns also came in two colours – grey and brown. And they were absolutely thronged with shoppers. In Dublin, the women serving biscuits and a cup of tea called me ‘Luv’. Pigs trotters, fatty and bony, were wrapped in newspaper and eaten with gusto. The beer was black and very bitter.

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